Monday 12th February
“To those affected this is far bigger than Brexit” said Andrew McCornick, union president, at NFU Scotland’s annual conference held last week at Glasgow’s Radisson Blu Hotel.
Mr McCornick was talking about the damage down to the areas of Strathmore, Strathearn and the whole Tay catchment area by beavers.
“All this is a cost to the industry, reducing output from farms and crops, individual business viability and ultimately Scotland’s economy. The beaver’s are causing real damage, riverbanks are collapsing, there’s flooding and soil erosion. There must be a point when we can say enough is enough.”
11 years ago, after being extinct from Scotland’s countryside since the 16th century, beavers suddenly appeared on the River Tay setting up a colony and attracting interest from naturalists and landowners alike. It is still unknown whether the beavers were illegally released or had escaped captivity from a wildlife reserve – either way, it was a surprise to many farmers who have claim the mammal is destroying their livelihood. The animal’s residency was assured when the Scottish Government announced in November 2016 that the beavers were to remain in Scotland, meaning the species was the first mammal to be formally reintroduced in British history.
Perthshire potato farmer, Pete Grewar, challenged Mr McCornick to provide an “unequivocal assurance” that the issue would be taken seriously by NFU Scotland’s board.
Mr Grewar also said: “This is (…) reducing our ability to produce food and go forward with our agricultural businesses. If the union doesn’t get this right, there are going to be serious ramifications for the environment, the rural economy and every farmer in the country.”
The devastation beavers, as well as geese and sea eagles in other regions, are causing was one of the main talking points at the conference, with farmers also worried that a plan in England to reintroduce the lynx into woodland in Northumberland, could lead to the species being reintroduced into the wildlife north of the border.
However, the idea was dismissed out of hand by Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government’s cabinet minister for the rural economy, who defiantly said: “There will be no lynx in Scotland, this will happen over my dead body.”
He also said: “I cannot and I will not support anything which creates further gratuitous challenges or difficulty for our farming sector.”
The resistance at the conference to any form of lynx reintroduction was further hammered home when a Norwegian farmer, Kristoffer Moan – who had made the journey from his 300-sheep farm in Trondheim – said: “I hear they are talking about releasing lynx in Scotland. That’s crazy. To bring lynx into Scotland would be a disaster.”
Mr Moan claimed to have lost 49 lambs to predators in 2016 alone and revealed that it was usually difficult for farmers to claim back compensation for loss of livestock due to each lamb death being individually inspected.